Thursday, April 10, 2008

Upstaged by global warming

Al Gore and global warming have put the idea of sustainability on the map. Combine it with the instability of many of the world's oil producing regions and the idea of energy independence and we are on the verge of turning a corner to the tipping point (to steal and mangle a few phrases) on how we view energy usage.

However, sustainability goes beyond energy usage. Yes, the combined threats of global warming and rising oil prices make it the most important component at the moment, but there is more to sustainability than being carbon neutral.

For the last few decades, our society (meaning the US primarily, but also most of the westernized world) has become dominated by disposable things. It is cheaper to throw something away and replace it, than to get it fixed. This is WRONG. It does cost the consumer less and makes money for most everyone else involved (except for the folks who repair things), but in terms of real resources and energy expenditures, it should be the other way. Instead of a few hours of work, we're spending all the materials and work involved in a new product (plus distribution) as well as all the work and resources (land) devoted to disposal. So we are wasting energy, land, and physical resources because it's too easy to just throw something away. That was true twenty years ago when the current torrent of toxic electronic waste was just beginning.

An (amazingly) overlooked resource that doesn't affect global warming, but will affect billions of lives, is water. It's been called the oil of the next century.

Land is another good one. Why is suburban sprawl invading the flood plains of the Sacramento River? The land is among the most productive in the world and the homes will be washed away in the next 50 years without a question.

Sustainability is about more than just being carbon-neutral. (And don't get me started about paying to be carbon neutral...). Its about conservation of everything. It's a law of physics, people. You can't create matter and the earth is only so big.

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